Saturday night is the high spot of the week for Abilene, Tex. Between 25,000 and 35,000 people live here and all of them try to get downtown on Saturday night. The smart ones drive down to North Pine Street or Cypress Street late in the afternoon to get the best parking places. The best parking places, it might be added, are in front of the Paramount Theater or right across from the Post Office where the bright window lights of the Walgreen Drug Store provide better after-dark visibility.  

What do the townspeople do after they get parked, herringbone fashion, head-in to the curb? Why, they sit there and watch the crowds of civilians and soldiers from nearby Army camps stream by. The civilian pedestrians—at least most of them—are intent upon getting somewhere. The solders are not. They just drift.

saturday night WWII GI cartoon

The Army outweighs the town at least two to one. On Saturday nights, an organization known as the Blue Bonnet Brigade engages the soldiers for dance-floor maneuvers. The Blue Bonnets are young unmarried women who must be at least 17 years old, chronologically speaking. At these dances there are usually enough soldiers to make up two companies of marching men. “Tags” happen so rapidly that if a soldier dances more than 18 notes of a piece of fast music he’s probably with the most unpopular member of the girls’ group.

Tankmen stand around on street corners. So do the medics. So do the Air Force men. Their eyes follow the passing procession. None of them looks very happy in a town which has three small colleges, a church on every corner but not a single taproom. Abilene is dry.

Groups of soldiers—the more venturesome souls—scoot in and out of the stores, which are open Saturday evening until 9. Some of them drift down south of the railroad tracks to Penny Arcade Row. They lounge in the town’s three USO clubs, reading, listening to radios and juke boxes, playing ping-pong. The street-corner soldiers watch girls and women walk by, appraising their figures and their walks, making guesses.

Back on Cypress Street a distinct change takes place in the crowds roaming the “bright-light district” after 6 o’clock. Civilians start disappearing from the sidewalks and the early-arriving soldiers discover that reinforcements have moved from camp to town. By 8 or 9 o’clock, civilians get fewer and fewer on the sidewalks. Many of them climb into their automobiles to rest and watch the soldiers move up and down the avenues.

What do soldiers do then? Well, they go into a café and have a steak. Or they go into a drug store and get a coke. Or they go to one of the movies. Or they go back to camp.

That’s where the wise guys were all along.

 For More Reading Check Out:

If You Survive: From Normandy to the Battle of the Bulge to the End of World War II, One American Officer’s Riveting True Story

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